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IP Address
35.175.182.106
Internet provider
Amazoncom
NOT SECURE
Your Internet provider can track your Internet activity.
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Privacy Laws in the United Kingdom

IVPN customers in the UK trust us every day with their increasing demand for privacy and security. Understand why privacy is such an important issue for customers in the United Kingdom.

Data Retention by ISPs

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) 2014 faced widespread opposition[1] and it was successfully ruled as unlawful by the UK’s High Court[2]. However, it has since expired and has made way for new legislation which is far more intrusive and has huge implications on the personal privacy of UK citizens. The UK passed the Investigatory Powers Act at the end of 2016. The new legislation allowed the UK government unprecedented powers of mass surveillance over its citizens – no surprise that it was derided as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’. It was widely recognised as being one of the most invasive mass-surveillance programmes of any democracy in history[3].

The Act will have given the UK Government unrestricted access to the entire browsing history of every UK resident from the past 12 months – all with the full acquiescence of ISPs, of course. Under the legislation, as a UK resident your personal data would be indiscriminately trawled and collected, regardless of whether you were under investigation or not. ISPs and phone companies would be compelled to harvest ‘Internet Connection Records’ (ICRs) by law or face prosecution[4]. These ICRs would list every website a person had visited, at what time and via which IP address over a 12 month period. It would not, however, show which specific pages have been visited or any specific content – well, that’s a relief, hey!

Court orders would be a thing of the past in order to view personal data. Not only was this en-masse, bulk collection of citizens’ data a complete violation of personal privacy, but there would be significant security risks including the potential for sensitive data breaches and attacks.

The great news is that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the UK’s new Act was in violation of EU legislation regarding privacy[5]. The European judges held that communications data could only be retained if it was used to fight serious crime. The ECJ found that a “general and indiscriminate retention” of data contravenes EU law and can only be done under certain conditions and “solely for the purpose of fighting serious crime”. It should be noted that the case is now back with the UK Court of Appeal, the result of which is pending. However, UK courts have generally sided with the findings of the ECJ. However, there is no doubt that a Conservative government will continue to fight for legislation which provides greater powers to law enforcement, thereby reducing online privacy in the UK.

Digital Copyright Laws

The UK enacted the Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010, which covered copyright issues. As with many other countries, the policing and enforcement of digital copyright laws in the UK has proven difficult. There is now an online copyright enforcement regime to which rights holders and internet service providers (ISPs) have voluntarily agreed for ‘educating’ alleged infringers about the harm of piracy[6]. There is also a push to make “micro payments” and other internet technologies a mechanism by which to enable proper remuneration for rights holders for online use of their works. There has been the development of a ‘digital copyright hub’ to assist in rights clearance for works available online[7].

Freedom of Speech and Censorship

It should be remembered that the UK has no written constitution. Legal documents like the Magna Carta and legislation such as the Human Rights Act of 1998 do afford UK citizens inalienable rights and freedoms, but a simple Act of Parliament could alter these rights. The bottom line is that UK citizens do not have the constitutional protections of freedom of speech or freedom from censorship that citizens of other countries have, with rights being piecemeal and beholden to the vagaries of common law and not statute - whatever British protestations to the contrary there may be.

Future Trends

The current Conservative government has been adamant about greater powers for law enforcement agencies in the ‘fight against terrorism’ at the expense of citizens’ online privacy. The fact that the UK is set to leave the European Union (EU) within the foreseeable future may have a further chilling effect, given that UK citizens and activist groups may not have as ready access to European courts as they would have done when the UK was a member of the EU.

Our Take

The UK is one of the most hostile Western countries regarding net neutrality and online privacy – Britons need to be well aware of that.

Interested in other countries? See our Comparison of Internet Privacy Laws page.

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